If, for some reason, I had to pick only one supplement to take, turmeric would most likely be my first choice simply because the many important health benefits of turmeric are important to whole body health. In fact, many studies conclude that turmeric root can have a noteworthy effect on neurological, metabolic, cardiovascular, and cellular health. It may even assist your thyroid and boost longevity.
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both Chinese and Indian medicine. In fact, turmeric owes its many health benefits to curcumin which is the natural compound that gives turmeric its beautiful golden color. Traditionally named “Indian saffron” because of its deep golden color, turmeric has, historically, been used as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye. Turmeric is best known as one of the ingredients in curry and it also gives mustard its bright yellow color. Harvested for more than 5,000 years, turmeric is native to Indonesia and southern India. It has served an important role in many traditional cultures throughout the East and considered an important member of Ayurvedic pharmacopeia.
Health Benefits of Turmeric for Alzheimer’s Disease
Studies suggest that curcumin, which is the biologically active constituent in turmeric, protects against Alzheimer’s disease by turning on a gene that codes for the production of antioxidant proteins. A study published in the Italian Journal of Biochemistry (December 2003) discussed curcumin’s role in the induction of the heme oxygenase pathway, a protective system that, when triggered in brain tissue, causes the production of the potent antioxidant bilirubin, which protects the brain against oxidative (free radical) injury. Such oxidation is a major factor in aging and responsible for neurodegenerative disorders including dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. Another study conducted jointly by an Italian and U.S. team and presented at the American Physiological Society’s 2004 annual conference in Washington, DC, confirmed that curcumin strongly induces expression of the gene, called hemeoxygenase-1 (HO-1) in astrocytes from the hippocampal region of the brain.
The most active ingredient in turmeric root, bisdemethoxycurcumin, boosts the activity of the immune system in Alzheimer’s patients, helping them to clear the amyloid beta plaques characteristic of the disease. In healthy patients, immune cells called macrophages, which engulf and destroy abnormal cells and suspected pathogens, efficiently clear amyloid beta, but macrophage activity is most likely suppressed in Alzheimer’s patients.
Using blood samples from Alzheimer’s patients, Drs. Milan Fiala and John Cashman have shown that bisdemethoxycurcumin boosts macrophage activity to normal levels, helping to clear amyloid beta. They also found that bisdemethoxycurcumin was more effective in promoting the clearance of amyloid beta in some patients’ blood than others, which hints that a genetic element is possibly involved. More study showed the genes involved are MGAT III and Toll-like receptors, which are also responsible for a number of other key immune functions. Bisdemethoxycurcumin enhances the transcription of these genes, correcting the immune defects seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 31;104(31):12849-54.
An Important Issue With Turmeric
For all its many health benefits, turmeric does have one issue. The golden spice has difficulty in its bioavailable to the body. In a nutshell, your body can only use a very small portion of the turmeric consumed. As such, the low absorption levels of curcumin does not allow your body to make full use of the healing properties of turmeric. However, there is an easy way to heighten turmeric’s bioavailability by adding black pepper to turmeric.
Anti-Fungal Health Benefits of Turmeric
With more and more research, we are finding out that fungal issues can cause or add to many illnesses and disease. While many herbs, vegetables and fruits have anti-fungal properties, turmeric is proving to provide a larger punch than most.
In a recent study from the European Journal of Pharmacology, research indicates that the primary polyphenol in turmeric known as curcumin is the best way to fight cancers which present a fungal element.
“Curcumin and its promise as an anticancer drug: An analysis of its anticancer and antifungal effects in cancer and associated complications from invasive fungal infections,” addresses the very real concern of invasive fungal infections, as a relevant cause of morbidity and mortality, in those with cancer. The study states, “Effective anti-infection therapy is necessary to inhibit significant deterioration from these infections. However, they are difficult to treat, and increasing antifungal drug resistance often leads to a relapse.” The authors of this study propose curcumin may offer an excellent natural alternative:
“Curcumin, a natural component that is isolated from the rhizome of Curcuma longa plants, has attracted great interest among many scientists studying solid cancers over the last half century. Interestingly, curcumin provides an ideal alternative to current therapies because of its relatively safe profile, even at high doses. To date, curcumin’s potent antifungal activity against different strains of Candida, Cryptococcus, Aspergillus, Trichosporon and Paracoccidioides have been reported, indicating that curcumin anticancer drugs may also possess an antifungal role, helping cancer patients to resist invasive fungal infection related complications. The aim of this review is to discuss curcumin’s dual pharmacological activities regarding its applications as a natural anticancer and antifungal agent. These dual pharmacological activities are expected to lead to clinical trials and to improve infection survival among cancer patients.”
The study also explains that conventional cancer therapies tend to result in damage to the cancer patient’s immune system, which then can contribute to fungal overgrowth. Conventional drugs recommended for fungal infections can cause deliberate harm to the liver and kidneys of cancer patients as well as leading to the development of more aggressive, treatment-resistant fungal infections.
20 Health Benefits of Turmeric
- produces anti-inflammatory effects that rival those of hydrocortisone & ibuprofen
- improves blood circulation
- supports & detoxifies liver
- anti-fungal properties
- natural antiseptic & antibacterial agent
- may prevent metastases of many cancers
- natural painkiller & cox-2 inhibitor
- may help with cystic fibrosis
- aids in fat metabolism
- natural support for arthritis & rheumatoid arthritis
- inhibits growth of new blood vessels in tumors
- speeds up wound healing
- may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease
- reduces risk of childhood Leukemia
- powerful antioxidant
- supports healthy cholesterol
- supports healthy digestion
- supports healthy eyes
- may help with depression
- helps to stabilize blood sugar levels
Ways to Cook Healthy with Turmeric
Your liver’s ability to clear LDL-cholesterol is very important. You can help out your liver by using turmeric to spice up sautéed onions, potatoes and/or cauliflower or as the main flavor for a creamy vegetable dip. Mix plain organic yogurt with a little omega-3-rich mayonnaise and turmeric, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with raw veggies such as cauliflower, celery, sweet pepper, jicama and broccoli florets. Always choose organic turmeric rather than prepared curry blends. Recent research indicates the amount of turmeric (and therefore curcumin) in curry blends is often minimal. (Tayyem RF et al.,Nutr Cancer)
Another way to incorporate the benefits of turmeric in your healthy diet is to cut cauliflower florets in half and healthy sauté with a generous spoonful of turmeric for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with cold-pressed olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Creamy Turmeric Tea Recipe
(makes 1 cup of tea)
1 cup almond or coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2-inch wide round slice of ginger root, peeled & finely chopped
Dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 – 1 teaspoon raw honey
Optional add-ins: cinnamon, cardamom
Gently warm the milk on the stove. In a mug, combine the remaining ingredients. Drizzle a teaspoon of the warmed milk into the mug & mix until the liquid is smooth with no lumps. Add the rest of the milk & mix well. You can leave the pieces of ginger in the tea, or strain it out before drinking.
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